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Leveraging its creativity could help Mexico escape the economic shadow cast by the US, but can UK consultancies such as Lambie-Nairn – about to open an office in the nation’s capital – help it realise that goal? Emily Gosling reports

Branding for Mexican design school Centro de Estudios Superiores de Diseño de Monterrey, by Form
Branding for Mexican design school Centro de Estudios Superiores de Diseño de Monterrey, by Form

Despite Lambie-Nairn’s imminent plans to open an office in Mexico City (News, DW 11 November) – joining consultancies including Design Bridge, Landor Associates and Future Brand affiliate Emblem, which all operate in Mexico – opinions remain divided over the scope for British designers to work there.

While some feel that Mexico’s recession-hit economy and blighted infrastructure, combined with an overbearing US shadow, are holding the country’s design scene back, others suggest that local designers are hungry for innovation and change and united by a strong desire to forge a truly ’Mexican’ identity – and may look to British design for inspiration with this.

Earlier this year, Martin Lambie-Nairn of Heavenly, Mike Dempsey and Michael Wolff visited Mexico to share their design experience at the Meet the Masters conference organised by the British Council. Dempsey says, ’British design has a history of being “idea-based”. Ideas are a premium and I think they like that [in Mexico]. In the US it’s beautifully crafted, but very decorative with very little ideas.’

Lambie-Nairn points to a Mexican ’inferiority complex’ next to their US neighbours. He says, ’They love the bigness and brashness, but, on the other hand, they’re a bit intimated by the US – there’s a backlash. As far as design is concerned they love all the humour in what we do.’

Paul West and Paula Benson, the founding partners of Form Design, frequently visit Mexico and see huge design potential there. In 2008, Form created branding for Mexican design school Centro de Estudios Superiores de Diseño de Monterrey, following a three-city lecture tour of the country.

Benson says, ’Mexico really understands the value of design. Our experience is that there’s lots going on there – it’s quite a hotbed of activity. The talent is amazing – the level of design is stunning.’ She adds, ’They’ve realised innovation is the way forward. They don’t want to become a nation that makes things, but one that innovates.’

She emphasises this aspiration to innovate as crucial to the country’s economic progress. Benson adds that the drive to develop new products undoubtedly generates opportunities for British consultancies in Mexico – helped by ’aligned thinking’ between the two nations.

Ivan Ramirez, head of creative industries for Mexico for UK Trade & Investment and the British Embassy, helps British consultancies establish contacts in the country. He says that the ’vibrant market’ in Mexico offers a wealth of opportunities for British design, partly due to the Mexican admiration for British creativity, multiculturalism and expertise.

Design Bridge frequently works in Mexico for brewer Cervecería CuauhtŽmoc Moctezuma. Consultancy director John Morris says, ’A lot of packaging design work is done by ad agencies as an afterthought to the ad, and it’s really not very good. They haven’t got the craft skills to bring design to the forefront of the brand. That’s our point of difference: elevating the role of design and the brand.’

As far as design is concerned they love all the humour in what [the British] do

Martin Lambie-Nairn, Heavenly

However, it seems that for all the advances in Mexican design, obstacles are apparent for British designers due to the gulf between the two countries’ markets and working approaches. Dempsey created an identity for Mexican PR company Lateral from his London office, but says he has no desire to work in Mexico. He says, ’When you go you realise there are so many shortcomings in basic infrastructure. There’s a lot of crime and poverty, and life is cheap there. The effect of earthquakes is still very evident – design comes pretty low on the agenda.’

Lambie-Nairn agrees that the fundamental differences between Mexico and Britain would currently make it difficult for British consultancies to succeed. He says that although designers there may be attuned to a more ’sophisticated’ approach, consumers are not. ’I think we’d find it difficult to rise to the bling,’ he says. ’There, it’s “make it big, make it loud, give it a bit of sparkle”. As the economy and confidence improves, I’m sure things will change.’

Although opinion is split over the prospects for British designers in Mexico for now, it seems there’s burgeoning scope for future collaborations. Dempsey feels Mexican design identity will remain firmly rooted in the country’s own culture, and ’ability to explore colour and shape and vibrancy’. Morris adds, ’Mexican culture is incredibly creative. It’s a very unharnessed, intuitive creativity, but there’s not the craft skill.’

Wolff rightly warns against generalising about Mexican design, and feels that collaboration is the answer for British consultancies hoping to succeed. He says, ’I think if UK designers are intelligent, ambitious and open they could well succeed. If you’re willing to open a small office, then the future is collaboration. I think there’s huge potential. With people so warm-hearted, open and enthusiastic, anything could happen.’

Tips for working in Mexico

  • Embrace the culture

It is a very colourful country. There’s a cultural element that wants to see that happening in the business world. Britain and Europe bring craftsmanship and expertise – it’s about how to channel that creativity into business success. You have to adapt for the market

  • Build brands

There are many corporate branding opportunities. If you come with an intelligent approach about how to build brands, with a model of how to do that, you will succeed

  • Adopt the Mexican business model

You have to understand the Mexican business model. You need to create friendships and build a level of trust, and that requires a lot of time and effort. Branding consultancies have come here from the UK and US and failed because they only see their Mexican clients once a year

  • Put the effort in

It’s an 11-hour plane journey. You have to put the ground work in. If you come four to six times a year then you might get a project – that’s how you build business. If you’re going to succeed you have to be in it for the long term. It’s not a quick revenue stream

John Morris, Director, Design Bridge

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